25 May 2014

After the End by John Shea, STD

Last Saturday I had the great joy of spending some time with the Franciscan Sister who met with me regularly for five years as a representative of the Diocese of Oakland  (Vocations Office/Vicar for Religious) when I was seeking initially to become a diocesan hermit. But over the years, and especially recently, we have become friends. Sister Susan was in the Bay area giving a day of retreat to the associates of her community in the Sacramento area. Afterwards she drove the hour and a half here and we reconnected. (I had last seen her in August when I was on retreat at the Old Mission Santa Barbara and otherwise only once since she had left the Diocese of Oakland.)

Fortunately for Sr Susan (not to mention for me!!), my pastor was more than happy to let her to spend the night in a guest room at the parish so she didn't need to drive all the way home afterward nor find a room at a retreat house in the diocese. After talking for a while, going over to the parish to get her settled, introducing her briefly to Father John, etc, we went for dinner and talked. I haven't laughed quite as much since a friend in the parish couldn't get the automatic book drop to work at the library and frantically (and miraculously) sailed the book frisbee-style through a narrow slot in the almost-fully-closed window as we drove away! (My sides ache just remembering THAT occasion. We drove and laughed uncontrollably for MILES.) Hopefully I can share a couple of Susan's stories another time!

Anyway, after dinner, and after we had talked there for at least two hours (well, maybe only an hour and a half), we went for a walk and talked some more! We talked about Christ and the resurrection and ascension and the thin places between heaven and earth and religious life and while we walked back along the trail toward my hermitage Susan recited a wonderful poem by John Shea called, "After the End." (She also told the story of meeting John Shea once and surprising him with the fact that she had memorized it!) She sent me a copy and it is that I really want to share here. The poem is the three-stanza story of what happens after Jesus' crucifixion in three of the post resurrection appearances. Stanza one is about Mary Magdalene's experience, stanza two is about Peter's, and stanza three is about the encounter with the two young men on the road to Emmaus. I hope you find it as wonderful as I did and do!

After the End by John Shea, STD

Like her friend
she would curse the barren tree
and glory in the lilies of the field.
She lived in noons and midnights
in those mounting moments
of high dance
when blood is wisdom and flesh love.
But now, before the violated cave
on the third day of her tears
she is a black pool of grief
spent upon the earth.
They have taken her dead Jesus,
unoiled and unkissed
to where desert flies and worms
more quickly work.
She suffers wounds that will not heal
and enters into the pain of God
where lives the gardener
who once exalted in her perfume
knew the extravagance of her hair
and now asks whom she seeks.

In Peter's dreams, the cock still crowed.
He returned to Galilee to throw nets into
the sea and watch them sink

like memories into darkness.
He did not curse the sun
that rolled down his back
or the wind that drove the fish
beyond his nets.
He only waited for the morning 
when the shore mist would lift
and from his boat he would see him.
Then after naked and impetuous swim
with the sea running from his eyes,
he would find a cook with holes in his hands
and stooped over dawn coals
who would offer him the Kingdom of God
for breakfast.

On the road that escapes Jerusalem
and winds along the ridge to Emmaus
two disillusioned youths
dragged home their crucified dream.
They had smelled "messiah" in the air
and rose to that scarred and ancient hope
only to mourn what might have been.
And now a sudden stranger
falls upon their loss
with excited words about mustard seeds
and surprises hidden at the heart of death
and that evil must be kissed upon the lips
and that every scream is redeemed for
it echoes in the ear of God,
and do you not understand:
what died upon the cross was fear.
They protested their right to despair,
but he said, "My Father's laughter fills
the silence of the tomb."
Because they did not understand,
they offered him food,
and in the breaking of the bread
they knew the imposter for who he was:
the arsonist of the heart.

After the end comes the conspiracy
of gardeners, cooks and strangers.